Oil on masonite board, circa 1970. 1219x813 mm; 48x32 inches. Signed and titled in oil, upper left verso.
Provenance: the estate of the artist; private collection.
African Princess is a significant mid-career painting by artist, activist and art therapist Cliff Joseph. This painting reframes the genre of the nude as a representation of Black identity. As in his Rise People Rise., 1970, Joseph intergrates Black figures into the red, green and black colors of the Pan-African flag. Here in a vertical composition, the central nude woman completes the tricolors while holding colored cloth in each hand. This powerful political and artistic statement was created at the height of the Black Arts movement. As a founding member of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in New York, Joseph was at the vanguard of a transformative moment in African American art and history.
Born in 1922 in Panama City where his father was employed in the construction of the Panama Canal, Joseph's family emigrated to the United States the following year, settling in Harlem. Following military service in the Army artillery and WWII, he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York, receiving a degree in illustration in 1952.
Cliff Joseph best described his practice of painting: "the power of the art belongs to the people." By 1968, both his painting and activism were reaching new heights. That year, Joseph painted one of his best known works, My Country Right or Wrong, a powerful anti-war statement. In 1968, Joseph also co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) with Benny Andrews, Henri Ghent, Reggie Gammon, Mahler Ryder and Edward Taylor. Faith Ringgold also became a member of BECC. Its founding was a direct response to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's controversial exhibition Harlem on My Mind which did not include any Black painters or scultpure. Its goal was to increase the representation of Black artists in New York galleries and museums. Joseph and the BECC went on to also protest the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America, and organized the exhibition Rebuttal to Whitney Museum Exhibition at the Acts of Art Gallery in Manhattan.
Joseph was also one of the first African Americans to join the professional practice of art therapy, and the first African American to join the American Art Therapy Association. He practiced art therapy at Lincoln Hospital and was on staff at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.